Amsterdam for art lovers

It's not only the high, but also the high-minded who love this city. Victoria Coren reveals where to delight eyes and taste buds
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The Independent Travel

Getting high (flights)

The most artistic airline is British Airways (0845 77 333 77; www.ba.com), which still has plenty of its flamboyant, individual tailfins around. It flies from Birmingham, Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester; leaving on 3 May, coming back on 6 May, the lowest fare from Manchester is £181 return.

KLM (0870 507 4074; www.klmuk.com) has the widest range of links, from Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Humberside, Leeds/Bradford, London City and Heathrow, Manchester, Newcastle, Norw-ich, Stansted and Teesside; a Bristol-to- Amsterdam weekend in 10 days' time comes in at £88.20. BMI (0870 6070 555; www.flybmi.com) flies from East Midlands and Heathrow; a return from London is £227.70.

The only no-frills airline from the UK to the Dutch capital is easyJet (0870 600 0000; www.easyJet.com), which flies from Belfast, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Glasgow, Liverpool and Luton. Finally, ScotAirways (0870 606 0707, www.scotairways.co.uk) flies from Cambridge and Southampton, charging £155.96 from the latter for the weekend of 3-6 May.

Taking the train

You can travel through Constable country if you take the deal available from Stena Line (08705 455 455, www.stenaline.co.uk) in association with Anglia Railways; through-tickets from London Liverpool Street via Harwich and the Hook of Holland to Amsterdam for as little as £49 return, if you book a week in advance.

City-break specialists: Cresta Holidays (0870 238 7711; www.crestaholidays.co.uk), Time Off (0870 584 6363, www.timeoff.co.uk) and Travelscene (020-8424 9648, www.travelscene.co.uk). These have an allocation of rooms throughout the year, which can solve the accommodation problem.

Getting high (drugs)

We all know why people used to go to Amsterdam. But with legalisation in Britain looking more likely than ever, going all the way to the Netherlands to get stoned is so last millennium. Amsterdam is now host to a far classier kind of tourist: the art tripper. This city boasts some of the world's finest paintings, and canny travellers can build a three-day break around an artistic theme. Never mind the drugs, here's the culture.

Rest assured

Remember that we are travelling on an art theme: the Canal House Hotel (0031 20 622 5182; ¤150, £90 or per night) is one of the best mid-range hotels, but aesthetes may be looking for something more specialised. If you've got the funds and fancy a picturesque view of the canal from your bedroom window, choose the lovely Pulitzer on Prinsengracht (0031 20 523 5235; ¤245, or £150), which has its very own art gallery ­ currently going out on a limb with an exhibition of tulip sculptures.

Or, if you're mega-rich and don't mind being out of the city centre, the John and Yoko suite at the Hilton (0031 20 710 6005; ¤875, or £530) is a work of art in itself. Entirely white ­ white bed, white Jacuzzi, white guitar ­ it has Chinese screens, peace emblems, and "The Ballad of John and Yoko" inscribed on the ceiling. You can, of course, order chocolate cake in the bath.

If you can bear to stay in the red-light district ­ which is buzzy, but safe ­ a good low-budget choice is the Winston (0031 20 623 1380; ¤85 or £50). This is a conceptual hotel designed by a collective of local artists, and staying here is like sleeping inside an installation. I slept in a room that looked like a Heineken bottle, with green bubbles on the wall and tiny fridges for bedside tables. Check out the rooms ­ each one weird and completely individual ­ on their website, www.winston.nl.

The Eden Hotel (0031 20 530 7878; ¤85, or £50) is much smarter, although part of the Best Western chain. In most respects ordinary, it contains four special "art rooms" designed by local students, so make sure to request one of those. The best is room 562, in which Kiyomi Yui has created a three-dimensional version of The Nightwatch. I stayed in room 560, an interactive room where artist Gam Bodenhausen constructed a series of small glass cases containing various quirky items: upon leaving, the guest is supposed to take one item away and replace it with something else. I took a Pez dispenser, and left the autobiography of Victor Borge.

Must see

The reason to visit Amsterdam right now is the Gauguin-Van Gogh exhibition, which runs at the Van Gogh Museum (0031 20 570 5200) until 2 June and showcases the two artists' famous collaboration in 1888. It's fascinating and funny to see these two genius painters parodying each other's styles, both comically and in earnest; and always astonishing to see Sunflowers in the flesh. Three paintings from the series are currently on display ­ and if you've only looked at them in print, you'll be amazed at how damn yellow they are.

Next door is the Rijksmuseum (or national museum, 0031 20 673 2121), where Rembrandt's The Nightwatch hangs: it's worth a trip to the Netherlands just to see this one great work of art. It hangs among 5,000 other paintings, but since you can't spend the rest of your life (perhaps not even more than a day) in this building, be sure to catch the Golden Age Masters, especially those by Frans Hals and Vermeer, that seem to project as much light into the room as a window would. The section devoted to sculpture and applied art is the second most popular attraction.

There are literally hundreds of small galleries scattered around Amsterdam ­ you won't walk five metres without stumbling across one ­ but if you've never experienced the big kicks of Museumplein (a central open space, home to the City Museum, the Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum), then for heavens' sake get over there fast. Seen the Van Goghs before? Go again.

Eating and drinking

The Supper Club on Jonge Roelensteeg (0031 20 638 0513) is a weird, arty place where diners lounge on beds and bizarrely-dressed waiters serve them platters of food and drinks, and a DJ spins discs. It's a long night, with slow service, but strangely enjoyable as a form of performance art: combine this with Van Gogh and you won't require any mood-altering substances.

If you have the cash, take your newly awakened artistic mind to the Vijff Vlieghen (0031 20 624 8369), a stunning 17th-century canal house on Spuistraat with Rembrandt sketches hanging on the walls, and order the five-course mystery meal. You won't know what's in it until each course arrives, but it'll be good, it'll be Dutch, and it'll be expensive ­ around ¤44.25 (£27).

For Art Deco style, don't miss the Café Americain at the luxurious American Hotel on Leidesplein (0031 20 624 5322): a listed monument where Mata Hari allegedly held her wedding reception, it's possibly the most beautifully designed room in the city. And if you want to hook up with the arty crowd, go to Café Het Schuim (Spuistraat 0031 20 638 9357) on Sunday afternoon, where local painters and sculptors hang out. Unless, by Sunday, the very last thing you want to feast your eyes upon is another artist.

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